Thursday, May 02, 2013

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sir Douglas Robb Lectures 2011: Tariq Ali

LECTURE 1: Islam and its discontents

LECTURE 2: US power today: The global hegemon

LECTURE 3: The rise of China

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Beaver Trilogy vs Star Trek

Ahh...the pointless beauty of teh interweb. I'm sure Tim Berners-Lee never dreamed it could be so wonderfully useful! ;-p

Thanks to Kellog's for this widget apparently...

Create Your Own

Nice. Didn't know Vulcans had multiple rows of teeth though...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A transcoding haiku...

Winter becomes spring
Slow crawling, systemic thaw
Email crashes.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Auckland, ay.

This lovely effort, aside from some spurious side note about raising money for sick kids [;-p], is part of the broader local marketing campaign for Cadbury Moro (hence the simile in the song likening the city of Auckland to a Moro bar?!) The overall premise is simple, and quite clever. The campaign riffs on the idea that being the fourth best at anything is much better than being first, second, or third because, in the grand scheme of things, you're still doing really well but you’re out of the pressure zone that comes with being in a 'medal' position. You can just kick back and enjoy your moderate success - or so the propaganda goes.

Now, the music video below features a song about Auckland being the 4th city in the world. "4th at what?” you may well ask; the song does not explain. But fortunately for us, by the power of Greyskull, sorry, Google [they do both begin with a capital "G"] the internet informs us that Auckland was recently ranked as 4th= out of 215 cities (tied with Vancouver) in the Mercer 2009 Quality of Living Survey (last year we were in 5th position). Nice. What an incredible stroke of luck for the fine people at DDB NZ! Considering that the survey results were only published last week somebody in that team has their ear to the ether.

I hope you enjoy our celebratory tune. It is often very difficult to live up to our JAFA reputation but we do try our best. This one's for you Wellington ;-)

PS: I wonder how Vancouver celebrated?

PPS: A close friend of mine is one of the advertising suits responsible for this campaign. He appears in the video a number of times. There is a ‘lengthy’ shot (2 seconds maybe) of him singing at the back of the 'chorus group' right before the song ends. He is the tall lanky one not wearing his glasses. The video might be even funnier if they actually included his vocal track...and a reconstruction of the wrap party incident where he, whilst gesticulating wildly when telling a story, accidentally bashed someone else (from the video) who is significantly shorter than him...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I spent the entire evening leaning on Johnny Marr's foldback speaker!!!

The following is a longish review of our experience at the first night of the recent 7 World's Collide shows with Neil Finn at the helm and featuring a veritable feast of local and international musos mashing up each other's songs and making a few new ones in the process too. Very cool. We went as part of my lovely lady's birthday celebration - quite an indulgence for us but we did go to the first round he did in 2001 and we are also big Neil Finn fans and even bigger Radiohead fans. Having said that, I should say who the 'guest' artists were (this is not a definitive list):
  • Ed O'Brien & Phil Selway (guitarist and drummer from Radiohead)
  • KT Tunstall (Scottish indie singer/songwriter girl - very cool)
  • Don McGlashan (legendary NZ muso who fronted The Muttonbirds and The Front Lawn)
  • Sebastian Steinberg (American bass player who has sessioned with lots of talented people)
  • Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt (founding lead singer/songwriter and guitaruist) and two other members of Wilco.
  • Liam & Ellroy Finn (this time the youngest son joined his now famous brother on stage too)
  • Bic Runga (one of NZ's best singer/songwriters)
  • Lisa Germano (talented singer/session muso who has recorded on al;bums by Bowie, Finn, Iggy Pop, Eels and more)
  • Johnny Marr (ex-Smiths guitarist and legend)
Anyways, now for the review:

Bangers & Mash

7 Worlds Collide | Gig review by Jacob Powell

What better way to start the New Year than to stick some of the best NZ musos together with some overseas legends for a few weeks and let them loose for three nights of monster musical mashups?! Following on from his 2001 7 Worlds Collide experiment, Neil Finn is back with many of those friends, and more, to make many a music lover’s dream come true and to raise money and awareness for NPO Oxfam by recording a fundraising album/DVD to go with concerts. I tell you, with gigs like this, who needs Youtube?

After putting our little bubba to bed and leaving her under the care of our very able and parentally experienced housemates – our first ‘night out’ by ourselves since the birth of our little girl – we left the house somewhat prematurely to find ourselves near the start of the quickly growing queue. It didn’t matter that we were almost an hour early as the air was filled with excited anticipation, only mildly tempered by the unusually high average age of an audience snaking its way down Mt Eden Rd from long-time Auckland venue, The Powerstation. You could see middle-agers who have been big Finn brothers fans since they started, people of my vintage who straddle the Neil Finn-Radiohead-Liam Finn divide, through to those slightly younger (though not all that young) audience members for whom the chance to see Liam or Wilco alongside some other musos was an opportunity not to be missed.

Events of this stature always create a mild sense of unease in me beforehand, walking the fine line between heightened anticipation and inflated expectation, so it was with some trepidation that we entered the darkened room and made our way to the barriers at the front of stage. We landed a great spot with an unobstructed line of sight across the front of stage and with only two minor blind spots towards the back. Not necessarily the best place to appreciate the intricacies of the sound mix, but right up where the action was; a place where we could lock eyes with the players for those briefest moments of shared musical ecstasy; damn I hoped this would be good!

The crowd was at capacity by the time the players emerged from backstage. Neil Finn and crew kicked off the first of two generous sets with Crowded House hit Distant Sun before the ‘worlds’ starting colliding and we were taken through a veritable musical menagerie. One of the big differences between the 2001 gigs and this year’s is that Neil Finn has taken himself out of the spotlight. Whereas 2001 saw the various players taking centre stage with Finn material, e.g. Eddie Vedder fronting Betchadupa to perform Split Enz numbers, this time around Finn and others performed a mixture of new songs written for the (Oxfam fundraiser) album/shows and songs from the other artists with only a modest smattering of Finn/Crowded House favourites included, such as She will have Her Way and Weather with you.

Occasionally Neil’s musical hydra got the better of itself and ended chewing up one of its own heads in the process – highlighted by several noticeable stumbles on the lyric/melody front whilst singing other’s songs, and Jeff Tweedy’s obvious jetlag and his resulting moments of confusion – but this only served to highlight how incredibly complex an exercise this was and how ably these newly acquainted band-mates pulled off the show. For every slip, and there were plenty, came multiple wow moments and several of pure rapture. One of the great facets of this show, as with the 2001 run, is the very real sense of intimacy that develops in the room. You can feel the palpable connection developed between many of the musos through their time of concentrated creativity together, and this in turn extends out to the audience making us feel like we are part of this raw and special confederacy. Jeff Tweedy seems just as awed as we do when the ever talented Don McGlashan adds a euphonium solo to a Wilco song, and we, along with Neil and the band, sense the vulnerability as Radiohead drummer Phil Selway gives his debut public performance singing and playing guitar to a song he wrote in the lead up to the show. This is the stuff legendary gigs are made of: first times, spontaneity, a raw energy and chemistry that can’t be produced by hours of practice but that sometimes grows out of it.

Straight after the opener we were treated to NZ’s own Don McGlashan (possibly one of our more underrated artists) fronting a band including Johnny Marr, various members of Wilco, and Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien. They let loose on a couple of old Muttonbirds numbers: Long Time Gone and the slow and moody White Valiant. Also in the mix was the veritable energy bubble of a Scots lass, KT Tunstall, who had some backing vocals help from a wee girl revealed afterwards to be Johnny Marr’s teenage daughter Sunny (who was performing on stage for the first time with her dad). This was to be a night of many firsts. Later we were also surprised with guitar and vocal support from Marr’s son Nile before the ex-Smith’s guitarist’s family took flight for the pacific in the set break.

KT and Bic performed a ‘murder ballad’ duet they had just written entitled Black Ribbon which brought another unique flavour to the evening’s entertainment and Bic fronted another number of her own. Liam Finn came out to play two from his debut solo album I’ll Be Lightning: the wistfully mournful Gather to the Chapel and the more upbeat Second Chance. Liam was complemented on guitar and vocals by younger brother Ellroy – showing once more just how talented the Finn family is – and proved to be an over-excited presence all evening providing witty banter on top of musical prowess. He even purposefully engaged the crowd in the night’s first sing-a-long on the chorus to Gather to the Chapel. Following on from Liam was a section led by Johnny Marr including his new composition Too Blue, Smith’s song Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and then Marr song Down on the Corner (recycled from the 2001shows). Also recycled – in the encore trio – was popular Smiths tune There Is a Light That Never Goes Out to the great delight of the crowd.

Much of the second set belonged to Jeff Tweedy and the Wilco gang – though I suspect this was unusually weighted due to Tweedy’s late arrival to the gig. He turned up about half way through the first set looking incredibly tired and somewhat confused, explaining the apparent unexpected set list change earlier in the show which saw Bic Runga standing alone on stage for several minutes trying to banter her way through the break in the music. Tweedy’s lack of connection to some of the others’ material was noticeable (compared with his band mates) but he has a memorable voice and laid back presence which carried him out of the awkwardness that momentarily threatened to bury him. Wilco and the superband jammed out their songs The Late Greats, Jesus, etc, and California Stars (previously unreleased lyrics penned by Woodie Guthrie and subsequently put to music by Wilco and Billy Bragg in the 1998 album Mermaid Avenue) to open the second set in fine style.

One of the really excellent surprises of the evening (for me anyway) was that Neil and the crew attempted a couple of Radiohead tracks which they had avoided doing altogether in 2001. It was when Ed O’Brien joined Johnny Marr in a riff in the middle of the second set that I realised what was happening. It turns out that they played a cover of Bodysnatchers from Radiohead’s recent album In Rainbows. Quite an ambitious move, the melody and lyrics proved too much for Finn at times – he kept looking askance at Ed O’Brien who mouthed lyrics to help the vocalist along – and even the rhythm section struggled to master the feel that Selway and O’Brien put out there. Despite its shaky airing the track really gave a lift to the crowd, many of whom would have been as pleasantly surprised as I. A second (classic) Radiohead track opened the encore set: Fake Plastic Trees, with the vocal lead, this time, being assumed by the ever capable Jeff Tweedy. Feeling the burden of expectation he prefaced the song with a self-deprecatory comment about how the performance might be akin to “Paul Rogers fronting Queen”. He needn’t have worried as he acquitted himself fairly well considering Thom Yorke’s idiosyncratic vocal style/quality. The closing song for the gig encore, following There Is a Light That Never Goes Out sung by Neil Finn, was a truly rousing cover of Thunderclap Newman's Something in the Air which garnered some enthusiastic audience participation.

And just when you thought it was over, the crowd rose up in a way I didn’t expect. After the planned encore – the background music had come on and the stage crew had all retired for a well earned rest – we the audience went on with 5-10mins of solid applause, cheering, chanting and stomping crescendos until finally it couldn’t be ignored and we were treated to an actual encore! This isn’t something you get at many gigs nowadays and so the audience went wild as the Wilco lads returned to the stage quickly followed by the family Finn. Evidence of the spontaneous nature of the extra performance was seen in the ‘umming and ahhing’ about what to play and the fact that Neil didn’t get a guitar until half way through the first song when Liam managed to find one side of stage and get him hooked up. They kicked into a version of one of Wilco’s earlier songs Outtasite (Outta Mind) (the ‘sky surfing’ music video of which I remember from Max TV days!) and, once they’d finished that and looked set to leave the stage again, Neil convinced them to finish off the night with one more song which rang out joyfully, somewhere along the way morphing into a huge jam session for the quickly assembling musos. Very, very cool show!

You made it to the end! Well done...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Everything changes, be my friend...

Couldn't resist putting this clip up here.

Yes, that is Crispin Glover (the slightly weird actor who played Marty McFly senior in Back to the Future), and yes, he is doing a drag act of Olivia Newton-John singing her 1978 song Please Don't Keep Me Waiting. This is a small segment from a little seen film by director Trent Harris called The Beaver Trilogy (2000) which I luckily caught at the Auckland International Film Festival in 2001. I waited for the film to come back or the DVD to come out for ages for ages but it never did. Eventually I tracked the director down and asked for a copy. Turns out that he had music licensing issues for Olivia's song and so hasn't been able to release the film but he was happy make me a DVD anyway - very cool. It is one of my favourite films - though is very strange - and I feel privileged to have one of a few copies existing in the world.

(If you like, you can view more of that story here as I wrote a feature about it for an online film site I contribute to.)

The film starts with a strange piece of documentary footage he filmed back in the late 70s with a small town guy (Groovin' Gary) who wanted to be a celebrity and be on TV. He sets up a hokey small town talent quest and invites the director to come down and film it. Harris subsequently remade this bizarre little nothing documetary twice - several years apart - with, first, a very young Sean Penn, and later a young Crispin Glover - hence it is a trilogy. The first remake is virtually word for word but nuances the dialogue and strange events towards a theme of sexual repression in small town America (Beaver is the town the original Gary hails from) whilst the Glover version is a fully blown short film that develops that theme based on the basic outline of the original doco footage.

Harris does a clever job of presenting the surface issue of sexual repression, whilst the major themes are (to my mind) actually the exploitative power of the media, and the viewer as conscious and unconscious voyeur.

Not everyone's cup of tea but I love it!